Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Ancient environment found to drive marine biodiversity

Much of our knowledge about past life has come from the fossil record – but how accurately does that reflect the true history and drivers of biodiversity on Earth?

"It's a question that goes back a long way to the time of Darwin, who looked at the fossil record and tried to understand what it tells us about the history of life," says Shanan Peters, an assistant professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

In fact, the fossil record can tell us a great deal, he says in a new study. In a report published Friday, Nov. 25 in Science magazine, he and colleague Bjarte Hannisdal, of the University of Bergen in Norway, show that the evolution of marine life over the past 500 million years has been robustly and independently driven by both ocean chemistry and sea level changes.

The time period studied covered most of the Phanerozoic eon, which extends to the present and includes the evolution of most plant and animal life.

Hannisdal and Peters analyzed fossil data from the Paleobiology Database ( along with paleoenvironmental proxy records and data on the rock record that link to ancient global climates, tectonic movement, continental flooding, and changes in biogeochemistry, particularly with respect to oxygen, carbon, and sulfur cycles. They used a method called information transfer that allowed them to identify causal relationships – not just general associations – between diversity and environmental proxy records.

"We find an interesting web of connections between these different systems that combine to drive what we see in the fossil record," Peters says. "Genus diversity carries a very direct and strong signal of the sulfur isotopic signal. Similarly, the signal from sea level, how much the continents are covered by shallow seas, independently propagates into the history of marine animal diversity."

The dramatic changes in biodiversity seen in the fossil record at many different timescales – including both proliferations and mass extinctions as marine animals diversified, evolved, and moved onto land – likely arose through biological responses to changes in the global carbon and sulfur cycles and sea level through geologic time.

The strength of the interactions also shows that the fossil record, despite its incompleteness and the influence of sampling, is a good representation of marine biodiversity over the past half-billion years.

"These results show that the number of species in the oceans through time has been influenced by the amount and availability of carbon, oxygen and sulfur, and by sea level," says Lisa Boush, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences, which funded the research. "The study allows us to better understand how modern changes in the environment might affect biodiversity today and in the future."

Peters says the findings also emphasize the interconnectedness of physical, chemical, and biological processes on Earth.

"Earth systems are all connected. It's important to realize that because when we perturb one thing, we're not just affecting that one thing. There are consequences throughout the whole Earth system," he says. "The challenge is understanding how perturbation of one thing – for example, the carbon cycle – will eventually affect the future biodiversity of the planet."

-- Jill Sakai, (608) 262-9772,

Shanan Peters | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

nachricht Malaysia's unique freshwater mussels in danger
27.09.2016 | The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>